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CeBIT Nokia, Philips and Sony have formed an alliance to promote an RFID-based communications standard. The idea is that Near Field Communications (NFC) technology will allow people to access content and services and transfer data just by touching a smart object, or by bringing two devices close together.

The technology has three main applications, as seen by its inventors at Philips and Sony: secure mobile payment; peer-to-peer communication; and access to information on the move.

The technology could be a simple way of managing digital rights, for example. You buy the rights to a song using your phone. The rights can then be transfered to your PC at home using the NFC technology and you can download the song using your broadband connection.

Teruaki Aoki, senior executive VP at Sony, foresees wide adoption of the technology as a bridge between consumer electronic devices - from mobile phones to DVD players and home networks. Today at CeBIT, he forecast the technology will be used extensively, even in white goods and the car industry.

The Forum members say it is not meant to be a replacement for infra-red or bluetooth, but a complementary technology. A connection will be initiated by the NFC technology, but because the data transfer rates are so low (between 106kbits/s and 212kbits/s), bluetooth or other wireless technology will take over the actual data transfer.

Philips, Sony and Nokia say the technology will let people access content and services simply and intuitively. They see a world of "secure universal commerce where consumers can access and pay for physical and digital services using any device", according to the promotional literature.

The RFID tag will sit in a device and deal with authentication for the user: no more pin numbers to remember then. The question of what happens if someone steals your phone is still open, but the forum, backed by Visa, maintains that it would not be any different than losing a credit card.

Working products are already available for broadband providers to test, and the Forum expects the technology will be in products on the shelves by the end of the year. ®

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